Mr. Lekan Abiola is one of the sons of the late Moshood Abiola, the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election which was annulled by the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida. He told Eric Dumo what the recognition of that date as Nigeria’s Democracy Day by President Muhammadu Buhari means to the family
Some people have said that the recognition of June 12 as Nigeria’s Democracy Day by President Muhammadu Buhari in honour of your late father, MKO Abiola, was just to score some political point ahead of the 2019 elections, do you share this view?
I think that what President Muhammadu Buhari has done is a move long overdue. The democracy we have in Nigeria today was watered by the blood of a lot of people, including my father, MKO Abiola, and mother, Kudirat. For President Buhari to finally recognise June 12 as Democracy Day is wonderful and we are happy about it.
However, we are hoping that he would be declared as a former president of Nigeria. If he was conferred with the highest honour in the country, the GCFR, which is only bestowed on presidents, then I think he should be declared as one. We also want all the rights and privileges of a former president accorded to him. Former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, benefitted so much from my father and had the chance to do this but refused to do so. We therefore thank President Buhari for finally honouring our father.
Do you think that President Buhari’s action might have been calculated to spite Obasanjo?
Obasanjo is from the same hometown with my father and they even went to the same school. For him not to have given my father that honour is a shame on him. Nigeria belongs to every one of us. Since Obasanjo refused to do what was right, God had raised somebody to do it. Now, the whole thing is a shame on him knowing that he is from the same town with my father and he had the chance to honour him as well.
Do you think there must have been a grudge between your father and Obasanjo and perhaps that is why he refused to accord him that honour?
When my father was alive, he always visited Obasanjo at his house while he also came to visit my father at our place. They had a very close relationship. When Obasanjo was contesting for the United Nations Secretary General position, I remember my father working very hard to ensure his emergence. He travelled to all kinds of places to lobby people on his behalf, so I don’t know when this sudden enmity started. My father is late now; maybe Obasanjo can give an answer to that.
He was president of Nigeria for eight years and a great beneficiary of MKO’s kindness yet he could not honour him in any way. Obasanjo always visited our house where my late mother would make ‘amala’ for him to eat. This same woman got shot for the sake of democracy and for the eight years you were president, you couldn’t even mention her name or honour her in any way. This is really sad.
Did the family make effort to reach out to Obasanjo on why he needed to honour MKO while he was in power?
We tried on several occasions and even went to see him but he refused to do it. He never found any reason to do so. We thank God that someone else had honoured our father.
Your father died in Sani Abacha’s detention and a few days ago, President Buhari who worked under him, came out to openly praise the late military ruler, don’t you consider this as hypocrisy?
Nobody is 100 per cent perfect. As much as we felt he might have been wicked to our family, I am sure that there are other good things that others might have seen in Abacha. Likewise, as good as my father was to us, there might be some bad things that others would see about him. That is how life is.
So, if Buhari highlights one good aspect of Abacha that he knows, we cannot fault him. A few years ago, I met with Abacha’s wife, Maryam, in Mecca. We talked about all of these issues. There is no longer animosity between the Abiola family and Abachas. We have left everything to God.
Do you see the honour accorded to your father and late Gani Fawehinmi swinging votes in favour of Buhari during next year’s presidential election?
Absolutely. President Buhari knows that to win the election, he needs support from the South, so this in my view, is a great step that may help his reelection bid. But everything depends on what other steps he takes between now and when the election would be held. A lot of people are happy with what he has done for MKO. I have been receiving calls from all parts of the country ever since the announcement was made.
Before the announcement was made, did the President make any contact with the family?
When he was campaigning for the 2015 election, I was one of his biggest supporters in the South West and he used to come around to our house. I knew that if he became president, there would be something from him to us. With his latest move, he has shown that he had not forgotten us.
In the aftermath of MKO’s death, were there also other close associates who abandoned the family?
The truth is that even when you are alive, Nigerian politicians can still abandon you. So, it is not surprising to us that after my father’s death, a lot of his close associates were nowhere to be found. But as a family, our trust is always in the Almighty Allah.
In the build up to the 2015 elections, former President Goodluck Jonathan named the University of Lagos after your father but there was a public outcry over the move, how did the family feel about that?
Jonathan had great intentions but it was miscalculated. The University of Lagos is an institution that has its own unique history. He should have consulted with the different stakeholders before doing so but because he did not, the backlash was the result. However, we are grateful to him for even having that thought.
Ibrahim Babangida, the man who annulled the June 12, 1993 presidential election which your father was adjudged to be the winner, is still alive. Has he ever reached out to the family to apologise?
He has apologised to Nigerians which also include us. We have met him a couple of times and he expressed regrets. It is very unfortunate but as a nation, we have to move on and learn important lessons.
There has been talk of disunity among MKO’s children; do you see this new honour bestowed on your father uniting all of you?
I wish it was that easy. What annoys us is that those controlling the property of our father are not accounting to anyone of us. It is annoying to see our father’s property abandoned everywhere. Mr. Kola is our first born and leader. We urge him to do the right thing.
Above all, I want to thank Nigerians for all their support over the years. We are very happy for the appreciation they show for all our father did for democracy. We thank them for all the love.
Do you think that if MKO had been allowed to preside over the affairs of Nigeria, the fortune of this country would have been better than what it is today?
Absolutely. He was a man who had the interest of the people at heart. He had lots of ideas. You can see what he made of his own life when you consider the background he emerged from. I am certain that if he had been president, this country would have been a better place than it is today.